Middle East Peace Needs Political Bailout

By Osama Al-Sharif – Amman

It’s bailout time! As the world economic crisis worsens, banks, mortgage companies, auto giants and other troubled businesses are desperate for government intervention. Multi-billion dollar stimulus packages have already been adopted by European and American governments. China, Japan and other Asian countries have already stepped in to rescue ailing industries and support financial institutions. A number of Arab governments are working to limit the effect of the global financial meltdown on their economies through hefty cash injections, ad-hoc incentives and deposits guarantees.

President-elect Barack Obama wants to bailout America’s auto industry, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. The Bush administration has pumped $20 billion to save beleaguered Citi Group, the largest bank in the world. A few weeks ago, US Congress approved a $700 billion rescue package to buy risky debts from banks.

The full extent of the damage to world economy is yet to be measured. This is one storm that refuses to blow away, and it is now clear that the financial crisis will continue for most of 2009.

Governments have become the knight in shining armour charging in to save businesses in distress. A happy ending to all this is still remote, but as countries cooperate and join forces the damage will be contained, and recovery will follow. This is the nature of the global economy; this is how it is supposed to work.

But if collective action can work for ailing economies, shouldn’t the same also apply in the world of international politics? The Bush administration, whose era is about to close, has defied the realities of globalisation by insisting on a unilateral action in dealing with regional and global challenges—from the tribulations of the Middle East to the hazards of climate change. Eight years later we are seeing the outcome of such short-sighted policies. Nowhere in the world can the United States claim to have been successful in its single-handed treatment of crises.

The global financial crunch has overshadowed other failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, the Caucuses, Central Europe, Africa and South America. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict stands out as a classic example of America’s dismal tradition of implementing a unilateral foreign policy that takes sides and ignores world opinion.

With the Middle East peace process in tatters, the region needs a political bailout package to give it hope. The new president will have to make tough decisions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. Somehow, his biggest foreign policy test will be here in the Middle East. But as much as a new approach will be needed to tackle the issues, a stimulus package designed to bring on board as many parties as possible is also needed.

Peace and stability in the Middle East will be great news for a repressed world economy. It will help trigger growth and will definitely restore confidence among investors and business leaders. Ironically, stopping the financial meltdown might begin in the deserts of Arabia, in the valleys of the Levant, and on the shores of the Arabian Gulf.

This is the message that needs to be delivered to the new leadership in Washington. Arab leaders must use this opportunity to press for a new deal in the Middle East. On the other hand, America’s economic recovery will not happen quickly enough if the United States remains entangled in Iraq, Afghanistan and is failing to bring hope to the Holy Land.

A political bailout that seeks a comprehensive settlement to the region’s problems will change the sombre world mood and create opportunities, jobs and billion dollar deals. But Washington cannot and should not do it alone. It must learn from the lessons of the past eight years. It must bring the Europeans on board, allow a role for the Russians and Chinese, and listen to moderate Arab leaders.

We would not want the United States to turn its back on this region in these critical times. But it should invite others to participate in turning this region into a promised land, heralding the next big economic story. Barack Obama can appreciate the symbolism of tying peace to opportunity, hope to real change in the Middle East.

As much as the new president will be dedicating the first months of his term to dealing with America’s economic woes, his advisors and foreign allies must underline the importance of launching a political rescue plan for one of the most unstable regions in the world today. At the crux of things is the Palestinian problem, which begs serious attention after decades of wars, conflict, short-circuited peace deals and despair.

A bailout of the peace process will pave the way to resolve other challenges in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere. We need a collective approach and a multilateral commitment to bring peace in the Middle East and launch the first stage of a global economic revival.

– Osama Al-Sharif is a veteran publisher and commentator based in Jordan. (This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service, CGNews, with permission from The Star – www.star.com.jo.)

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